You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2014.

You guys.  What if sailing stones are just weeping angels caught in Death Valley?  Too few people come through to feed on the time energy, and they’ve worn themselves down to nothing scooting across the rocky floor.  These are the things I think about at night.

The baby shower was a big success!  No one died, and no one even reported digestive problems.  (If there was something I don’t know about, just let me continue to live in blissful ignorance.)  Cutesy things that I made include…

Eat us before we eat you.

Slightly murderous hedgehog cookies

Completely non-poisonous.

Toadstool patch made out of string cheese, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, and a sprinkle of parmesan.

The squirrels would be disappointed.

Acorn candy–easy to make, but veeeery time-consuming.

They didn't say anything.  Too shy, I guess.

I also made origami foxes as favors.

No matter where you turned, a hedgehog was staring at you.

Woodland critters EVERYWHERE.

My birthday was this week, so I celebrated last weekend with my family at Olive Garden, on Friday with my coworkers at Neomonde, and I’ll be celebrating with my friends tomorrow at Chuck’s Burgers.  I have some pretty fantastic folk in my life.  : D  Alas, I didn’t get any snow to speak of on my birthday, but I did get to move into my new office.  Pictures will be forthcoming once I get it jazzed up.  Right now it, uh, kind of looks like a dungeon with (mostly nonfunctional) fluorescent lights.  We’re working on it.

The other highlight of the week was heading back to Campbell University (for the first time in ages) for Burns Night.  The poetry and music and food was good, but the best part was seeing a lot of favorite professors and staff and hanging out until far too late with my English major colleagues of yore.  Good times, folks.  Being back on campus is always so surreal; so much has changed that my college experiences seem like dreams too incredible to be true.

Know this:


  • Cannibal rat ghost ship.  Holy cow, someone turn this into a story STAT.  (Admittedly, the press has hyped this way up; the ship has almost definitely sunk by now, and even if it hadn’t, the rats would’ve died off by now.  BUT STILL.)
  • Peter Freuchen, whose life was one long string of incredible experiences, including that time he “once escaped from a blizzard shelter by cutting his way out of it with a knife fashioned from his own feces.”  You will never be this tough.
  • Silk: interactive generative art.  There goes your weekend.
  • Boss of Sherlock Holmes museum attempts to clear killer.  “The trial and conviction of Michael Stone would have caused the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories to choke on his pipe.”


Agh, this review is so late!  I had so many thoughts, I didn’t know how to get them all typed.  At least I beat the American premiere.

If you’re interested, check out my reviews of “The Empty Hearse” and “The Sign of Three.” As always, if you missed any dialogue, I strongly recommend the incredibly detailed episode transcripts by Ariane DeVere.

This episode drew heavily from two Doyle stories, one of which was “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.”  In the story, Milverton is a nasty blackmailer whom Holmes despises and calls “the worst man in London”; Doyle based his character after Charles Augustus Howell, a famous blackmailer.  Sherlock says he’s put away criminals of all sorts, but “None of them can turn my stomach like Charles Augustus Magnussen,” a character that some have suggested is based upon famous news magnate Robert Murdoch.  Both villains use their initials as a signature: in the story, Milverton signs his calling card CAM.  In the episode, Magnusen signs the wedding telegram CAM, his license plate is 1CAM, and his news company is CAM Global News.  Holmes compares Milverton to a snake at the London zoo; Sherlock compares Magnussen to a shark at the aquarium.  Holmes takes a case on behalf of Lady Brackwell to obtain some damaging letters in Milverton’s possession, and to get access to Milverton’s household, he becomes engaged to Milverton’s housemaid.  Sherlock takes a case on behalf of Lady Blackwood and becomes engaged to Magnussen’s personal assistant. Holmes breaks into Milverton’s house (called AppledoreTowers in both the story and the episode) to steal the letters, and while he and Watson are inside, another woman enters and shoots Milverton.  Holmes doesn’t intervene because he feels Milverton deserved it (one of many examples in which Holmes has a rather vigilante sense of justice).  In the episode, Sherlock and John break into Magnussen’s office and interrupt Mary on the verge of shooting Magnussen.  In the end, Sherlock takes justice into his own hands to kill Magnussen.  The description of AppledoreTowers in the story (including a tiled veranda lined with windows and two doors) matches up nicely with the climactic scene of the episode.  Other nods to the story in the episode include the dialogue between Mary and John that paraphrases the dialogue between Holmes and Watson: “You are not coming.”  “Then you are not going.”

The second story from which this episode primarily draws is, of course, “His Last Bow.”  In it, Holmes returns from retirement to help the Crown on the eve of World War I.  He infiltrates a spy ring, using the alias Altamont (which was Doyle’s father’s middle name.)  The story begins with the German spies discussing the peculiarities of the British, saying that they’re soft and overly civilized…to a point, similar to Magnussen’s criticism of the British in the episode.  Holmes breaks the spy ring and returns to his retirement keeping bees on Sussex Downs.  In the episode, Janine mentions retiring to a cottage in Sussex Downs where she needs to get rid of some bee hives.  In “His Last Vow” we learn that Mrs. Hudson’s first name is Martha, which is a nice nod to Holmes’ housekeeper in the Doyle story.  At the end of the story, Holmes remarks, “There’s an east wind coming, Watson,” referring to the cataclysm about to descend upon the world in the form of war.  “There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet.  It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast.  But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”  We get both a positive and a negative interpretation of the east wind in the episode (more on that at the end).

There were so many other Doyle references in this episode, I hardly know where to begin listing them.  Mary’s USB drive has the initials AGRA on it, a reference to The Sign of Four, which dealt with treasure from Agra, India.  Finding Sherlock in the drug house was a reference to “The Man with the Twisted Lip” in which Watson unexpectedly discovers his disguised friend in an opium den while in search of  a man named Isaac Whitney (the kid in the episode has the same name).  The character of Billy Wiggins in the episode is a combination of two Doyle characters: Holmes’ page Billy from a handful of stories, and Wiggins, the leader of Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars in a couple novels.

Various characters mention Sherlock’s boltholes, a nice nod to countless stories in which Holmes refers to numerous boltholes he has stashed around London.  I suspect the names of the boltholes in the episode are references to Doyle stories (Parliament Hill, Camden Lock, Dagmar Court, blind greenhouse in Kew Gardens, leaning tomb in Hampstead Cemetery, and Lenister Gardens).  This may all be a bit of a stretch, but…I did discover that all of the locations mentioned are within 15 minutes of the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street, with the exception of Kew Gardens, which is apparently where Moffat lives (more like 20 minutes away).  Hampstead is the location of Appledore in Doyle’s story.  The blind greenhouse may also be a reference to the Milverton story, since Holmes and Watson break into Milverton’s house by way of his greenhouse.  Not quite a Doyle reference, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless:  When everyone is speculating about where Sherlock could be hiding, Mrs. Hudson suggests, “behind the clock face of Big Ben.”  The Great Mouse Detective, based heavily on Sherlock Holmes, features a dramatic showdown between the hero and the villain behind the face of Big Ben.

Mycroft’s ominous mention of a third Holmes (“You know what happened to the other one.”) is a reference to Sherrinford Holmes, possibly the older brother of Sherlock and Mycroft.  Sherrinford was Sherlock’s name in original drafts of the Holmes stories, but William S. Baring-Gould later posited that Sherrinford was actually a third Holmes brother.  Holmes does mention that his family were country squires, which meant that the eldest brother would inherit the estate and would be required to stay and manage it.  Neither Mycroft nor Sherlock live on an estate, so somebody must have inherited.  Additionally, Mycroft is a civil servant, a common occupation for younger sons at the time of Doyle’s stories.

On to the characters!

Oh, Magnussen.  This show certainly knows how to create a villain.  Magnussen is one of the most unsettling creatures in television.  When Magnussen says he has a condition, Lady Blackwood replies, “It’s disgusting,” and I think she’s talking more about the thing in front of her than about sweaty palms.  “This is ownership,” Magnussen says, and that’s what all of his revolting little displays are about.  He owns his victims, and he can do what he likes with them; he enjoys flaunting his power.  In a bit of foreshadowing my roommate was very smart to pick up on, Magnussen says, “I have an excellent memory,” giving us the hint that the vaults are all in his mind.  His assessment of each individual in the episode is displayed like an entry in a database, as opposed to Sherlock’s swirling, sometimes random deductions.  In retrospect, the visuals we saw of Magnussen in his “vaults”—searching through an old-fashioned rolodex, accessing file cabinets, flipping through actual slides—make sense once we know the answer: these storage methods don’t make much sense in the digital age, but they make for great ways to visualize the mental storage of information.  His sifting of pressure points and determination of whether a person was “unimportant” or not was revealing.  John is dismissed as “unimportant”; his pressure points are Mary Morstan and Harry Watson (sister).  Sherlock’s record says he was deceased 2011-2013, and his pressure points are John Watson, Irene Adler, Redbeard, Hound of the Baskervilles, Opium, and Jim Moriarty (morphine is added later). No mention of Mycroft (or his parents) in Magnussen’s original assessment.  One thing puzzled me about Magnussen (well, probably more than that, but you know).  The actor who plays him is Danish, and he uses his own accent for the episode, but he pronounces the word “country” just once with a distinct northern English accent. (“Mycroft Holmes is the most powerful man in the country.”)  He doesn’t say the word that way earlier in the episode.  I couldn’t tell if he was mimicking something or what.

If John is having flashbacks after just a month without solving crimes, one wonders what he did for two whole years while Sherlock was “dead.”  The scene where he gleefully busts into a drug den and snarks at Billy was almost despicably enjoyable and had some lovely dialogue. “There is nothing the matter with me!  …Imagine I said that without shouting.”  “I’m a doctor, I know how to sprain people.”  Moffat plagiarizes himself on occasion.  The line, “I’m looking for a friend.  A very specific friend, I’m not just browsing,” reminded me very much of a similar line from Doctor Who.  I liked how none of the druggies were stereotypical: Billy is quite the observational genius, and Isaac Whitney was adorably polite, addressing the couple as Dr. and Mrs. Watson and saying please and thank you.  And, as this episode so clearly illustrated, John has formed a bit of a habit himself.  Billy complains that some guy hit him.  John says, “Yeah, probably just an addict in need of a fix.”  Sherlock: “Yes.  I think in a way it was.”  Later, Sherlock tells John that the Magnussen case is “too big and dangerous for any sane individual to get involved in.”  “You trying to put me off?” John asks.  “God, no.  Trying to recruit you.”  The scene was a lovely callback to the way Sherlock lured John in during the first season.  And Martin Freeman’s face (particularly his reactions to Jeanine, “Shezza,” and “Sherl”) continues to be a source of great joy to us all.

Molly has come a long way from the downtrodden, meek little mouse of season 1.  She smacks the daylights out of Sherlock and scolds him soundly: “How dare you throw away the beautiful gifts you were born with?  And how dare you betray the love of your friends?  Say you’re sorry.”  Just as well her engagement is over, since he was obviously a poor stand-in for Sherlock.  (Psst, go ask Lestrade out, I’m serious!)  Once again, she was the only one Sherlock trusted in this episode; he hid out at her place instead of at any of his known boltholes.  She’s the mental voice that knocks some sense into him as he’s dying.  (Though Anderson was also present, which I found interesting.  By the by, I noticed Anderson’s wedding ring is gone this season.  When did that happen?)

Mycroft is still flirting with the line between terrifying and sweet, which shouldn’t be a line that’s hard to miss, but somehow is in this episode.  We see Sherlock through his eyes (still and always a child), but we also see that Mycroft really is far less nice than his brother.  Magnussen, apparently, is under his protection—probably because of Magnussen’s access to the prime minister, as was mentioned at the beginning of the episode.  Mycroft doesn’t throw away tools that might be useful one day, however repulsive they may be.  Interesting, though, the power dynamics in this episode.  He chases Anderson and his friend out of 221B, saying “Don’t reply—just look frightened and scuttle.”  He intones, “I hope I won’t have to threaten you as well” to John, and Sherlock outright laughs at him.  “Well, I think we’d both find that embarrassing,” John says blithely. A few moments later, when Sherlock is being the dangerous one (“Don’t appall me when I’m high”), John tells Mycroft, “Don’t speak, just leave,” a dismissal paralleling Mycroft’s earlier one.  When Mycroft is listing off boltholes, we get a glimpse of his computer screen, which says “Ugly Duckling” up at the top as he tracks a target.  Not Sherlock, though, as the screen seems to be of Poland.  A reference to Moriarty, perhaps?  And yet, for all of his wheels within wheels, when he imagines his brother as a child or says “your loss would break my heart” to Sherlock (even if it was under the influence of drugs), it’s hard not to like him a bit.  The glimpse at Holmes family life was hilarious, and the conversation between the brothers outside was filled with Hobbit references.  Mycroft says Magnussen was “a necessary evil, not a dragon for you to slay.”  “A dragon-slayer.  Is that what you think of me?” asks Sherlock.  “No.  It’s what you think of yourself,” Mycroft says.  He refuses to send his brother to Serbia, knowing he’ll be killed…and knowing that he has utility in England.  Sherlock asks, “Utility, how do I have utility?”  “Here there be dragons,” says Mycroft.  Even though Mycroft is not listed as a pressure point for Sherlock, Sherlock is a pressure point for Mycroft, and it’s this relationship that sets off Magnussen’s chain of manipulation: get to Mycroft (the most powerful man in England) through Sherlock, get to Sherlock through John, get to John through Mary.  Complicated!  As John says, “I don’t understand.”  Magnussen: “You should have that on a t-shirt.”  John, later: “I still don’t understand.”  Magnussen: “And there’s the back of the t-shirt.”

Even though this episode was in part about Sherlock “dying,” he’s not the focus of the episode so much as John and Mary’s relationship is.  Which is not to say there wasn’t tons of great character development for him, because there was.  Although Sherlock is a jerk to string Janine along, and he pretends he sees nothing wrong with it, he knows he’s doing wrong.  He doesn’t want Mycroft or (more tellingly) John to see Jeanine at his flat.  He does seem to have a connection with her, as we see most clearly after they both know the truth about each other.  And he does care about her a bit; when Sherlock finds the knocked-out security guard in Magnussen’s office, John starts to get up from Janine’s side to tend to him.  “White supremacist by the tattoo, so who cares?” says Sherlock, looking at the man on the floor;  “Stick with Janine.”  We learn that Redbeard was Sherlock’s dog as a child, one he became extremely attached to and then lost (probably setting the pattern for Sherlock’s lack of attachment in adulthood).  “They’re putting me down too, now,” Sherlock tells the dog in his head.  “It’s no fun, is it?”  We get all sorts of interesting information during his death scene—including a particularly fascinating look at Sherlock’s internal Moriarty.  Moriarty always said that he and Sherlock were the same, and they are: one is working on the side of the law, one is not.  One could have oh-so-easily turned into the other.  Sherlock keeps his visceral side well-caged…and yet, that’s the part that ultimately says the magic words to get him to live.  Sherlock doesn’t react when Moriarty says that if Sherlock dies, “Mrs. Hudson will cry; and Mummy and Daddy will cry, and The Woman will cry, and John will cry buckets and buckets.  It’s him that I worry about the most.  That wife!”  But then…”You’re letting him down, Sherlock. John Watson is definitely in danger.”  Sherlock’s eyes fly open: he made a vow.

The real crux of the episode is the bizarre and intriguing relationship between John and Mary.  When Sherlock walks in on the scene with Mary and Magnussen, Magnussen says, “What would your husband think?  Your lovely husband, upright, honorable…so English.  What would he say to you now?  You’re doing this to protect him from the truth, but is this protection he would want?”  At the time, we (and Sherlock) think he is talking to Lady Blackwood about her husband, but in retrospect this tells us so much about Mary and John.  She really does love John, and she’ll do whatever she has to do to keep from losing him.  They really are perfect for each other; if either person were with anyone else, they’d be bored to tears.  She asks Mr. Holmes, “You’re the sane one, aren’t you?” meaning the sane one in his marriage to a genius.  “Aren’t you?” he asks her in return, and she doesn’t answer.  She’s at least as crazy as John, and she’s dangerous and terribly intelligent—very similar to a certain consulting detective we all know.  Sherlock tells John that he’s “abnormally attracted to dangerous situations and people…you chose her,” which is true–just like he chose Sherlock.  Sherlock and Mary even think alike.  Sherlock tells her, “I knew you’d talk to the people no one else would bother with…You’re always clever, Mary, I was relying on that.”  Mary is the first to figure out that Sherlock got them all out to the Holmes house for a specific reason, but she passes out before she can tell John what it is.

But if Sherlock recognizes that John chose Mary specifically FOR these reasons, how much did he know about her, and when?  Seems like he should’ve deduced more about her background.  “Liar” doesn’t begin to cover it.  Did he know, and he simply chose not to tell John until it became imperative?  Either way, Sherlock would be wise not to underestimate Mary Watson; she didn’t kill him, but she cut it very, very close.  Too close, in my opinion, for him to credit her with saving his life.  He died.  Whether she intended that or not is a matter for debate.  And yet, he protects her, even encourages John to go back to her.  “But why would he care?” John muses, wondering why Sherlock doesn’t reveal his shooter.  “He’s Sherlock.  Who would he bother protecting?”  Only the ones he has vowed to protect.  He does draw the line at lying to John for Mary.  The “dummy,” John in a turned-up collar and mussed hair, was simultaneously a nice reference to Doyle’s “The Empty House” and a bit of a dramatic gift from Sherlock to John, whether or not either one of them realized it.

The climactic scene is also, still, all about John and Mary.  Sherlock’s gift to them is killing Magnussen, and he tells John, “Give my love to Mary.  Tell her she’s safe now.”  He does what he swore to do, thinking that he’ll die for it. Throughout the episode, many shots are reflections in mirrors, in glass windows, tabletops, Magnussen’s glasses, etc.  The mirror behind Sherlock in 221B during that confrontation with Magnussen neatly parallels the mirror behind him when he’s shot.  Everything has been distorted; everything is a reflection, not quite clear.  But the cinematography after Magnussen is killed is straightforward, lots of wide angles, clear space, and bright lighting.  If, as I theorize, this is meant to reflect Sherlock’s state of mind throughout the episode, then he is at peace with his decision at the end, possibly even at peace with dying.  He’ll be in Serbia for six months, he tells John, referring to the suicide mission Mycroft mentioned earlier.  “Then what?” asks John.  “Who knows?” Sherlock replies, which is true…who knows what’s after death?  Sherlock knows John Watson is out of danger and will be happy.  Mary says, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep him in trouble.”  “That’s my girl,” Sherlock answers.  Everyone is resigned to their respective fates…

And then Moriarty comes back.  The game is still on, and in a lovely parallel to “His Last Bow,” Sherlock is called back into service of queen and country.  The east wind, according to Mycroft, is a “terrifying force that lays waste to all in its path.  It seeks out the unworthy and plucks them from the earth.”  But John interprets the story in a new light.  If Moriarty truly is back, “he’d better wrap up warm.  There’s an east wind coming,” John Watson says, watching Sherlock’s plane come back home.

And that’s all till Christmas, folks!  I tend to think that Moriarty’s return really is Moriarty, though I haven’t a clue how.  While the recordings played everywhere could be faked by someone trying to capitalize on Moriarty’s reputation, the scene at the very end of the credits isn’t animated.  Looks like the real deal to me.  Let the crazy theories begin.

Extremely hectic (but excellent) week!  So busy, in fact, that I am woefully behind on my Sherlock finale review and won’t have a chance to post it for a day or two.  Sorry, to all 5 of you who were looking forward to that.  I saw the (bloody brilliant) episode on Monday with some friends, but there hasn’t been any time since then to type up my obsessively detailed ramblings.

On Sunday I went to hear the Hickory Grove Bluegrass Boys, who were playing in a little church in Smithfield.  It was one of the most intensely Southern experiences of my life, and the church was packed with little old ladies, who all hugged me and fed me and gave me sweet tea.  Fascinating, bewildering, but enjoyable experience!

Tuesday turned out to be fantastic for a variety of reasons, not least of which was seeing Ender’s Game at the cheap seats with a pack of friends and going out for hot chocolate and good conversation at Cup of Joe afterwards.  In the long-term, however, the most exciting development was at my day job.  Guess who will be getting a raise, an office, and a bonus?  This girl!  The office is small and windowless and I’m pathetically grateful anyway.  I’m beyond excited to get out of the cubicle farm.

Poor Lucky was an emotional wreck this week since my roommate Allison was out of town, so I spent a good bit of my evenings consoling a tiny wailing beagle who was probably convinced that I had killed her beloved person and usurped her place.  Allison is back home now, and Lucky is back to her usual slightly neurotic but happy self, which relieves everyone involved.  The rest of my evenings were spent trying to tackle overly ambitious recipes for Sarah’s baby shower on Sunday.  I’ll take pictures of anything that doesn’t poison anyone because these are some disgustingly cute-looking finger foods.




Books: Unbelievably, I’m still working on The Worm Ouroboros.  I read War in Peace in far less time, and I liked that far less.  I’m hoping this week will feature more page-turning and less running around like a headless chicken (not that that isn’t fun on occasion).

Finally did a little housekeeping around the blog, so now there’s a fancy Publications page for you to peruse and actually some content (although not much) on the About page, among other belated improvements.  Be still, my heart.

It was cold enough that even in North Carolina, I was able to blow bubbles and watch them freeze.

New winter pastime!

The best part about Seascape did indeed turn out to be the sea monsters.  Great execution (excellent job, Southstream Productions!), but the play itself just wasn’t written quite as well as I would have liked.  It was still a very enjoyable evening, but after all of the hype, I was a little disappointed in Edward Albee.

This week saw the end of an era in that we finally finished the discipleship program.  I don’t know what I’ll do with myself on Wednesday nights; they’ve been booked for the last three years.  We spent a year getting together to learn Latin, another year getting together to read and discuss philosophy, and another year getting together for intense Bible study.

I think I’m going to get a mob together to see Ender’s Game at the cheap seats.  Anyone see it, and if so, what did you think of it?

My friend Sam just started her own translation and editing business, so check out her site!





Books: I’ve been working on The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison forever and am only halfway done; it certainly is not a book you can rush through.  I’m not even really sure how to talk about it, it’s so unusual.  Imagine that Shakespeare read a lot of Norse sagas as a boy and then attempted to write Lord of the Rings, and you might come close to Ouroboros.  The novel is wildly creative and is told almost entirely in Elizabethan-style prose–and the novel itself was published in 1922, when heroic fantasy was still a fledgling.  Eddison was quite the medieval and Renaissance poetry fanboy, and he plops entire (obscure) 15th- and 16th-century poems into his work.  No one else could hope to write in Eddison’s style: you’d have to ingest Jacobean literature all of your life, as he did, to even attempt it.  Both Tolkien and Lewis admired aspects of Eddison’s work–so much so that Lewis invited him to read at The Inklings.  Tolkien said that Eddison was “the greatest and most convincing writer of ‘invented worlds’ that I have read,” though he did express frustration with Eddison’s willy-nilly naming.  Eddison first began thinking up stories for Ouroboros as a boy, and apparently was reluctant to abandon some of the elements he constructed in childhood, meaning we end up with odd character names ranging from Brandoch Daha to Spitfire to Fax Fay Faz.  Eddison’s creativity and language are definitely his strong suits: plot and character, less so.  The story itself consists (at least so far) of a very long war between the Demons and with Witches (with appearances by the Pixies, Imps, and Ghouls), none of which bear the slightest resemblance to the connotations those words imply (they’re all more or less human), and all of this takes place on the planet Mercury.  But the book reads nothing like how that description sounds.  For example:

“What kill-joy have we here?” said Spitfire.  “The trumpet soundeth only for travellers from the outlands.  I feel it in my bones some rascal is come to Galing, one that bringeth ill hap in his pocket and a shadow athwart the sun on this our day of festival.”

Or another example:

Nor could one hope in one night’s space to behold such deeds of derring-do as were done that night by Lord Brandoch Daha, that played his sword lightly as one handleth a willow wand; yet death sat on the point thereof. In such wise that eleven stout sworders of Witchland were slain by him, and fifteen besides were sorely wounded. And at the last, Corinius, stung by Corund’s taunts as by a gadfly, and well night bursting for grief and shame at his ill speeding, leapt upon Lord Brandoch Daha as one reft of his wits, aiming at him a great two-handed blow that was apt enough to cleave him to the brisket.

One more:

She answered, “Do not defile mine ears with their excuses.  They have shamefully abused us; and the guilt of their black deed planteth them day by day more firmlier in my deeper-settled hate.  Art thou so deeply read in nature and her large philosophy, and am I yet to teach thee that deadliest hellebore or the vomit of a toad are qualified poison to the malice of a woman?”

I am puzzled and enthralled and occasionally amused, caught up in admiration in spite of the story’s many flaws.  This book is bizarre and beautiful, and I highly recommend, at the very least, giving it a try.

You know the drill: massive spoilers for Sherlock 3×02, “The Sign of Three.”

Before getting bogged down in the dissection of the relationship intricacies of this episode (and believe me, I will), I want to reiterate how much I love the Doyle references in this show.  The title of this episode references the novel The Sign of Four, in which Holmes and Watson meet Mary Morstan.  In the novel, Major Sholto is Mr. Morstan’s friend and a somewhat villainous character.  Mary comes to Holmes to find her missing father (subsequently discovered to be deceased), which is how she meets Watson.  Jonathan Small is the novel’s main villain.  The episode tosses all of these elements together and mixes them up.  Major Sholto is now John’s ex-commander, the photographer’s name is Jonathan Small, and mention is made of Mary being an orphan.  The Sign of Four also includes a pygmy using a blowgun to shoot poisoned darts, which Sherlock references in his speech as the case of The Poison Giant.  Many of the cases Sherlock mentions (like The Hollow Client) can be found on John’s blog, a brilliant bit of advertising by the BBC (albeit clearly written by someone other than Moffat and Gatiss).  The Elephant in the Room is probably a reference to “The Mystery of the Vanishing Elephant,” an old Sherlock Holmes radio play from the 1940s.  Sherlock’s line, “Oscillation on the pavement always means there’s a love affair,” is paraphrased from the Doyle story, “A Case of Identity.”  In one scene, Sherlock hides cigarettes in the famous Persian slipper from Doyle’s stories and shoves it under the couch.  The writers continue to make oblique references to Mycroft’s weight, a nice little nod to his obese counterpart in the stories.  Sherlock continues to get Greg Lestrade’s first name wrong, particularly hilarious since Doyle only ever referred to him as G. Lestrade in the stories.

I love all of the detail.  One of the telegrams is from Mike Stamford, the guy who got the boys rooming together in the first place.  John still drinks out of the same old mug from the first episode of the show.  Mrs. Hudson asks Sherlock where he thought his tea came from in the mornings.  “I don’t know.  I just thought it sort of happened,” Sherlock says.  Later when Mary and John come out of the kitchen, Sherlock is sitting in front of a pile of folded serviettes.  “That just, sort of, happened,” he says.  Sherlock’s twinge when Mrs. Hudson sat in John’s chair was a nice little touch.  I thoroughly enjoyed the courtroom thought process (less cheesy than the mind palace approach) and the just-long-enough cameo by Irene Adler, complete with that same beautiful theme music.  Sherlock uses the code “Vatican Cameos” again from last season, itself a reference to an adventure mentioned in the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, to alert John to danger.  In the middle of Sherlock’s rambling speech, he says, “I could go on all night about the depth and complexity of [John’s] jumpers,” a hilarious nod to the fandom’s obsession with John’s sweaters (and one that I completely missed on first viewing).

Speaking of unnoticed details, I’m going to beat this dead horse until nothing but bones are left: there’s something between Molly and Lestrade.  They’re talking together (sans Molly’s fiancé) on the lawn immediately before the reception and in the background of almost every shot of the reception.  It would be harder to spot if Molly weren’t wearing some kind of ridiculous yellow banana peel on her head.  She sits closer to Lestrade than she does to her own fiancé.  I got a kick out of the fact that Molly cottoned to the inherent problems of Sherlock being best man before anyone else, and hunts down Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson to try to solve the problem.  I adore Molly.  She appeared to be actively performing an autopsy while talking to Mrs. Hudson, and you have to admire someone who can handle a phone and a bone saw at the same time.

Okay, on to the big stuff.  Opinion seems to be somewhat divided on this episode.  “The Sign of Three” is clearly destined to become a fan favorite, on the one hand—it has everything the fans have been wanting to see.  As I watched, I realized… this isn’t television: this is live-action fanfiction, complete with a John/Sherlock hug.  At the same time, some people felt that there was entirely too much warm fuzzy coming out of everyone’s favorite consulting detective to be completely believable.

On first viewing, I felt like the episode, while eminently satisfying, did feel a little out of character for Sherlock in spots, but upon rewatching, I’ve revised my opinion.  When confronted by the prospect of “losing” his friend, or at least his undivided attention, Sherlock could have realistically reacted in two ways: 1. Go to every effort to sabotage the wedding, snub John for his “betrayal,” and retreat in high dudgeon into a life of loneliness, or 2. React the way Sherlock did in the episode, being as supportive as possible in an effort to remain a part of John’s life.

The second option is clearly the more mature one, and implies the same fear of change with the addition of some marked character growth.  Yes, Sherlock was a jerk in the first episode of the season.  But time has passed (we know he returned around Guy Fawkes’ Day in November, and the wedding is in May), and he has a clear respect for Mary (who manages both men with an almost uncanny ease: “I’m not John, I can tell when you’re fibbing.”) and concern for John’s happiness. As for whether all of this feel-good fluff is consistent with Doyle’s character, I don’t think that even factors in: Doyle’s Holmes was always a kinder, more sensitive gentleman than Sherlock ever was, and this incarnation has already established itself as a very different character.

And this Sherlock is very frightened of change, while simultaneously wanting his friend to be happy in his new life.  Everyone from Mycroft to Mrs. Hudson tells him that things will never be how they were. The happy couple are the exception to this rule: John assures him that everything will remain the same, and Mary tells him that “neither one of us were the first, you know,” presumably meaning there’s room for more than one person in John’s affections.  She certainly doesn’t seem threatened by Sherlock’s and John’s relationship, and, interestingly, Sherlock seems less threatened and more wistful when he sees her and John together.  He does initially seem to feel threatened by and certainly jealous of John’s relationship with Major Sholto, perhaps because he feels it’s more similar to the one he has with John. Sherlock calls Sholto John’s “previous commander.”  John says, “Previous suggests that I have a current commander.”  “Which you don’t.”  “Which I don’t.”  And yet, John’s relationship with Sherlock is not unlike that of a trusted soldier and his commander: John has a lot of trust, respect, and admiration for Sherlock, and he even saluted after his little speech at Sherlock’s grave.  Sherlock acknowledges that he and Sholto are very much alike, and this realization enables him to talk Sholto out of killing himself: “We wouldn’t do that, would we?  We would never do that to John Watson.”  Rather telling little first person plural, there.

Sherlock is forced to face what John means to him when he thinks that he might lose him (or at least lose his undivided attention), and the episode showed this beautifully.  It seems to be triggered by the realization that Sherlock is in fact John’s best friend, something Sherlock can’t even fathom.  He’s blindsided by the fact that John cares about him—and possibly just as blindsided by how much he cares for John.  Hearing him talk about John the way John talked about Sherlock at his grave was very, very satisfying. Sherlock is fully aware of his own shortcomings, as he illustrates in the speech, and fully aware of John’s strengths: “I will solve your murder, but it takes John Watson to save your life.” John whispers to Mary, “If I try and hug him, stop me.”  “Certainly not,” she says.  At the crucial moment, Sherlock rejects the voice of Mycroft in his head (the voice of cold, merciless logic) and turns to John and his humanity.  “John Watson, you keep me right,” he says, realizing that saving a life is more important than solving the mystery.

The hilarity of the failed stag night (“He’s clueing for looks.”) masks what is actually a very sweet gesture, and highlights one of the themes of the episode: Sherlock is trying to do all of this folderol right for John’s sake.  Composing the waltz, vetting the wedding participants, and folding serviettes (!) are all ways he can serve—and be included.  He has to be told to get out of the photo of the bride and groom, and he stands in the receiving line with them when none of the bridesmaids do. What will this new relationship be like?  After all, as John says, “We can’t all three dance, there are limits.”  Initially it seems as though the title of the episode is referring to this new dynamic between the three of them…until the end, when it’s revealed that Mary is pregnant, and the “three” in question are all Watsons.  Sherlock leaves the wedding early and alone, putting on his heavy coat—purely for drama, since we already know this was a May wedding.

So, predictions for the finale.  I avoid the BBC trailers like the plague because they give away too much, but I expect obscene amounts of angst and the obligatory cliffhanger.  The title of the episode is “His Last Vow,” a play on Doyle’s story “His Last Bow,” Holmes’ last case before retiring.  Sherlock’s one and only vow at the end of “The Sign of Three” is to always be there, no matter what, for the three Watsons.  It’s safe to say John or Mary or both will be in danger in some way, requiring a sacrifice on Sherlock’s part to save them.  I suspect Mary’s secret(s) will be involved in some way, and we know that Magnussen will be back. In the books, Mary dies during the interval between Holmes’ “death” and his return in “The Adventure of the Empty House.”  I desperately hope the writers don’t kill her off.  We never see what happens to the Waters family, although presumably Donovan (who has not, after all, been fired, though she seems as sour about Sherlock as ever) arrests them.  If they wriggled free again, perhaps they’ll play a role.  Mycroft’s enigmatic comment about Redbeard will probably be explained at some point.  I’m not sure if that was a reference to a childhood toy/pet or a reference to his comment last season about Sherlock wanting to be a pirate as a child.  We shall see…

Three days into the new year and guess who already bought a bunch of new books.  Ugh.  (I mean that in a good way.)  A friend at work had never been to the Reader’s Corner, so you can imagine how that turned out.

I spent New Year’s Eve at a gathering thrown by some friends who happen to live on State’s (currently abandoned) campus–driving around State without coming close to hitting any kids on bikes is such a lovely novelty.  I had a good time, although I didn’t know too many people, and we played group charades and toasted the new year with champagne or sparkling grape juice, whichever the individual preferred.  Guests were supposed to dress as their favorite day of the year, so of course I was the first day of winter.  I definitely went overboard on the costume, but I love an excuse to dress up.  Sadly very few other people wore costumes, but I didn’t regret my brief foray into the realm of blue eyeshadow and glitter.  Not that I’ll be venturing near that territory again…days later, I’m still finding glitter everywhere.

A few of us girls got together on Wednesday for tea, chocolate, and the season 3 premiere of Sherlock (about which I just wrote extensively).  I can’t imagine a better way to start the new year!  This weekend I’m going to see Seascape with Allison.  I’ve never read the play, but it has sea monsters, so I’m pretty sure it has to be good.





Books: Somehow I went my whole life without knowing that Agatha Christie wrote a murder mystery set in ancient Egypt!  I was very excited to read Death Comes as an End, in part because it was based on some real letters of an Egyptian man to his family back home, taking them to task for their treatment of his concubine.  In the end, though, I have to admit that this novel isn’t one of my favorites of Christie’s.  The setting is intriguing, to be sure, and the murder mystery plays out nicely, but there’s little else to make it stand out from her other works.  I discovered after the fact that apparently she changed the ending, against her better judgment, at the urging of the Egyptologist she consulted for the novel.  She always thought the unpublished ending was better, and I’d love to have read that version.

I did end up on a fascinating and disturbing Wikipedia rabbit trail after reading her introductory note, though.  She says, “The terms ‘Brother,’ ‘Sister,’ in Egyptian text regularly meaning ‘Lover,’ are frequently interchangeable with ‘Husband,’ ‘Wife.’ They are used so on occasion in this book.”  I knew that incest was fairly accepted among the Egyptian nobility, and I wondered if that’s where the interchangeability came from.  Preliminary googling seems to indicate that is the case…bizarre.  From there I ended up learning that in one particular region of Roman Egypt, almost 1/4 of recorded marriages were between brother and sister.  The Wikipedia article on incest says that 20-36% of children of parent-child or sibling-sibling unions will die or have major disability due to inbreeding, so you’d think the Egyptians would have caught on to that little pattern.  This of course led to googling universal taboos (if there is such a thing): there aren’t any that are strictly universal, but there are several things the majority of societies frown upon (incest and cannibalism, among other things).  Interesting stuff, folks.

I’m currently at work on The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison, about which I have many thoughts, but I’ll hold off sharing until I get further along.

This post is nothing but one giant spoiler for Sherlock 3×01, “The Empty Hearse,” so if you haven’t seen it, mosey on over to some other blog. If, however, you have seen the episode and would like to read an obsessive analysis, you have come to the right place!

I have to admire the ability of Moffat and Gatiss to manipulate their viewers. Millions of Sherlock-starved fans watched the opening scenes of the episode in growing anxiety and a hefty amount of blind faith. Even as I was thinking how ridiculous the scene was, I was trying to justify it in my head because it’s SHERLOCK: this has to make sense somehow, right?

We all breathed a hearty sigh of relief as we realized that this was just one of Anderson’s crazy theories. I’m fairly certain Moffat and Gatiss didn’t actually bother to write how Sherlock survived until they saw all of the fan speculation online. Then they just drew the best (or funniest) ideas and threw them all together. I definitely ran across the idea somewhere online that the dead body was actually Moriarty with a Sherlock mask. (Not that it makes a lot of sense–dragging Moriarty’s body down from the roof would be completely unnecessary, for one thing. You’re in a hospital, for crying out loud, and if you’re putting a mask on it, any body will do.)

“The theories just keep on getting more stupid,” says Lestrade, which pretty much sums up the last year of the internet. The writers essentially made the fandom into characters on the show by having Anderson and his fan club ask all of the questions we’ve been asking for a year. I’m pretty sure I sprained something laughing at the romantic Sherlock/Moriarty theory put forward by one of the fan club members…and I’m also pretty sure that’s drawn straight from an array of existing fanfiction. The dummy of Sherlock had a printed-out promotional photo from the actual show stuck to it. #SherlockLives is the hashtag the fandom has been using all year, and “I believe in Sherlock Holmes” has been on t-shirts, graffiti, and everywhere else lately. The fandom should be a paid writer for the show at this point.  Right before I posted this, a friend sent me this article stating that this state of affairs might not be a good thing, but I disagree.  The writers known how to handle a rabid fanbase with aplomb, right down to filming fake scenes just to mess with our heads, and the ratings alone prove that catering to the initiated fan does pay off in the long run.

Not that such fanboying helps Anderson much.  I suspect Anderson lost his job in part because of his own guilty obsession with Sherlock, and in part because of media scrutiny of the police. The news voiceovers towards the beginning of the episode say that Richard Brook was indeed a creation of James Moriarty, vindicating Sherlock Holmes and clearing him of all suspicion, and the newscaster says questions are being asked as to why police let matters go so far. Sounds like, once the truth about Moriarty was known and Sherlock was cleared, the two officers who cast the most suspicion on Sherlock (Anderson and Donovan, who doesn’t even appear in the episode) were fired.

While everyone else is sniffling into their coffee, what is not-dead Sherlock up to? Getting beaten by Serbians, apparently. (I really liked the little touch of the Serbian guard listening to music. If I had a job that required me to be in earshot of people being tortured, you best believe I’d be blocking it out with some tunes.) Speaking of which, we got a better look at the Holmes sibling relationship in this episode, and it’s a bit vicious. Mycroft is content to watch his brother (whom he hasn’t seen in two years, remember) get beaten, and their sibling reminiscing later while playing Operation (!!) is disconcerting. Mycroft is pretty cold in general during this episode: something about his offhand dismissal when Sherlock asked about John was chilling. And yet there was the telling scene with the hat while they play the deduction game (drawn straight from Doyle’s stories, in which Holmes and Watson also play the game with a hat left behind by a client). “I’m not lonely, Sherlock.” “How would you know?” Their parents (played by Benedict Cumberbatch’s real-life parents, no less!) were hilariously ordinary—how did they end up with two such sons? Mycroft complaining about having to sit through Les Miserables with them was one of the funniest parts of the episode.

Let me just sigh happily over the reunion scenes for a bit.  Sherlock is so confident that John will be happy to see him, and then you see him look just a little bit nervous when he walks into the restaurant.  I love the ridiculous music as he strolls in, showing off like a fiend, assembling a disguise from the patrons and clearly enjoying himself far too much.  The reveal is both hilarious and touching, as Sherlock is hideously insensitive but obviously still cares.  (And let’s be honest, we all felt the same way about the mustache.)  As I mentioned in my review last year, I was really hoping John would clock Sherlock instead of faint, and I got my wish, several times over.  They downgrade restaurants every time they fight, moving from posh to family style to shady diner.

Sherlock’s reunion with Lestrade was surprisingly touching.  In the first season, they had both quit smoking together and were on the patch.  Without Sherlock, Lestrade is back to smoking in parking garages.  Sherlock insists on getting his name wrong again, of course, but that hug was still darned adorable. Mrs. Hudson’s reunion was the only one that stuck exactly to the book: in both Sherlock “throws her into hysterics.”  Sherlock’s glee at being back in London was nice to see, but what does he do?  He gets back and promptly goes and stands on a roof somewhere. NO.  NO ROOFS.  NO MORE OF THAT.

The writers handled the character of Mary Morstan (played by Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman’s real-life partner of 13 years) very smartly.  They had the unenviable task of making the fans like a character whom they were already predisposed to dislike for breaking up the dynamic duo. In the episode they quickly make a point of her being an ally of Sherlock’s and imply that she won’t disrupt John and Sherlock’s relationship.  John darn well better marry her, because he’s unlikely ever to find another girlfriend who does like Sherlock.  And she’s absolutely right, she’s the best thing that could have happened to him.  When Mary and John nodded in unison with their arms crossed, I felt as though I’d gotten a glimpse of Freeman home life.  In the books, of course, Mary meets John through a case (“The Sign of Four,” in which Holmes saves her life), and they marry.  In the episode they’ve apparently met through work, but I have a feeling she may play a role in an upcoming case.  When Sherlock deduces her (ugh, can I even use that word that way?) we see the word “liar,” among others, used to describe her.

Molly is just the best.  I love her, and I hope we get to see more of her this season.  I thoroughly enjoyed her day with Sherlock, making faces and snide comments at each other behind clients’ backs.  She’s such a neat combination of adorable and tough; she does autopsies for a living and identifies the age of the body as quickly as Sherlock does, but she does it all while wearing a fluffy sweater and a giant scarf.  Sherlock, for a wonder, shows a lot of sensitivity and tells her, “Don’t be John, be yourself.”  Her little smile afterwards was perfect.  She asks him what today was about, and he says, “Saying thank you for what you did for me.”  He says that was Moriarty’s big mistake (which is completely true): “The one person he thought didn’t matter at all to me was the one person that mattered the most.”  He treated her with great tenderness (for him) in this episode, and it made me very happy.  He’s even smart enough not to comment on her Sherlock-lookalike fiance.  I’ll admit for some reason I thought he had deduced something else about the guy (her comment about sociopaths being her type made me suspicious of the fiance), but on second watching I think that really was all the episode was trying to imply: that she hasn’t moved on quite as far as she thinks she has.  By the by, Lestrade still gets her champagne in this episode, asks if it’s serious with Sherlookalike, and watches her all the time.  I’m convinced Molly and Lestrade could be a thing.  Shhh, don’t burst my bubble.

As always with Sherlock, the episode abounds with references to the original stories.  The title of this episode is “The Empty Hearse,” and the story in which Holmes makes his return is “The Adventure of the Empty House.”  In that story, Watson accidentally knocks down an elderly man with white whiskers carrying some books, and he helps the man pick them up. One of the books is The Origin of Tree Worship. Later the old man, who says he is a bookseller, comes around to apologize for his rude behavior, and he offers Watson some other books: British Birds, Catullus, and The Holy War. Then the old man whisks off his disguise, revealing himself to be Holmes, and Watson faints.  In the episode, John examines a white-haired old man…who inexplicably offers him porn, instead of books, bearing the titles “Tree Worshiper,” “British Birds,” and “The Holy War.”  No wonder John assumed he was Sherlock in disguise.

In the story, Holmes mentions travelling in Tibet and amusing himself by visiting Lhassa and spending some days with the head lama, all of which was included in the Sherlock mini-episode.  Sumatra Road is a nod to The Giant Rat of Sumatra, an adventure referenced (though not specifically told) in Doyle’s stories.  At one point Sherlock explains that one of his 13 scenarios involved “a system of Japanese wrestling,” a reference to the fictional martial art of baritsu, which Holmes used to throw Moriarty off the cliff.  Sherlock also adapts a quote from Doyle’s “A Secret in Scarlet”: “London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.”  I’m hoping that this blog will do a review of the episode, because I’m sure there were more references I missed.

This isn’t really mentioned in the episode, but it was a neat little fact I ran across recently: In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Holmes mentions that there are 17 steps leading up to their quarters in 221B. In the show there are also 17 steps leading up to their rooms (and, apparently, 17 leading to the first floor of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, which is a nice touch).

I love all of the other details on this show; it’s always worth watching the episodes twice to catch them.  When John finally comes back to visit Mrs. Hudson, he still has his key to 221B, even after two years.  He’s wearing a Sherlock-esque long dark coat and scarf, which was interesting—he wore short coats all throughout the first two series.  On his way in, some kids ask him for a penny for the Guy, which was a neat bit of foreshadowing that I completely missed the first time.  He still doesn’t take sugar in his tea, a plot point all of the fans remembered even if Mrs. Hudson didn’t because of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” last season.  Upon second viewing, I realized how many glamour shots of the London Underground they included throughout the episode, including the shot of John riding the train at the beginning, all foreshadowing the conclusion.

The train/bomb scene evoked similar feelings to the opening scene: “okay, this feels off, but I’ll work with it because it’s Sherlock.”  I was glad Sherlock was ultimately joking, because otherwise his overacting immediately beforehand would have been very out of character.  Still, Sherlock Holmes is a JERK.  I’d have wanted to kill him too.  Sherlock: “Killing me?  That was so two years ago.”  So rude.  Still, it gave him an excuse to finally apologize to John and ask him to forgive him, and of course John does.

Major plot points are annoyingly unresolved, though I’m sure they’ll all tie together neatly in the end.  We still don’t know who kidnapped John (other than that it’s likely the dude with glasses at the end) or why, and it seems to be unconnected to the bomb plot.  Interestingly, they texted Mary, not Sherlock, with the skip code.  Why?  How did they know she would understand it?  Is she connected in some way? They obviously know she went to Sherlock for help, since one of the texts to her phone says, “getting warmer, Mr. Holmes,” and they kidnapped John outside of 221B.  We still don’t know the significance of that stupid line about one of the spies dying to get the information (which reminded me of Star Wars every time: “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.”)  Moran’s takedown was surprisingly anticlimactic (I had hoped he would be the next big villain), but apparently this season’s baddie will be Charles Magnussen.  In the stories, he’s just a blackmailer.  They’ve already upped that ante by making him (I suspect) John’s kidnapper, so I’m not sure what will happen.

And of course, the biggest question for fans (though ultimately unimportant, in my opinion) is…how did he do it??  Sherlock lives and breathes and we still don’t quite know how—and I think that is very, very smart of the writers.  The version of the story he tells to Anderson makes sense (though I may be biased, since it was the one I suggested last year).  The fans all wondered why Mycroft would be stupid enough to let Moriarty go.  Sherlock admits (in this version) that he didn’t foresee Moriarty killing himself, which tallies with his reactions on the roof last season.  This is the only explanation shown in the episode that doesn’t actually contradict scenes from the season 2 finale (it even accounts for the shot of the shoulder of the body hitting the ground).  Still, Anderson isn’t satisfied, and that’s kind of the point: no explanation would satisfy all of the fans.  “Everyone’s a critic,” says Sherlock.  In the end, John also asks him how he did it: “I asked you for one more miracle.  I asked you to stop being dead.”  “I heard you,” is all that Sherlock will say.

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

Follow me on Twitter

my read shelf:
Stephanie Ricker's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

A Storytelling